Shot in conjunction with Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima presents the World War II battle from a Japanese perspective. Based in part on letters written by the Japanese commanding officer on the island, the film offers a broad spectrum of the Japanese experience, from laborers forced into uniform to conservative officers ready to kill themselves before surrendering. As in Flags of Our Fathers, the core message is the futility of war. It has rarely been told in such powerful terms.
Published in 2002 by then-nineteen-year-old Christopher Paolini, Eragon is the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels about a young orphan who leads a rebellion against a despotic tyrant. The book, a mix of Stars Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and several other fantasies, has been adapted into a solid if unspectacular film aimed squarely at adolescents. As the sole sword-and-sorcery release this holiday season, Eragon corners a market that Fox, clearly banking on another Harry Potter, hopes is still robust.
Set during a particularly vicious 1999 civil war in Sierra Leone, Blood Diamond uses diamond smuggling as a springboard for a wide-ranging examination of politics, economics, journalism, and racial identity. The film offers deeply focused performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou and a horrifying vision of the chaos of modern-day warfare, as well as several unnecessarily off-putting speeches that scold viewers about events largely out of their control. The effect is sometimes like watching a lavishly mounted public service announcement.
With his personal life reduced to fodder for stand-up comedians, Mel Gibson tempts further derision with his latest film, an epic set during the collapse of the Mayan empire, with an almost exclusively indigenous cast speaking Yucatec Maya. Whatever his shortcomings, Gibson is a director with vision and ambition. Apocalypto takes place on a scale few filmmakers today would attempt, and it is a measure of Gibson’s talent and perseverance, as well as his respect for old-fashioned storytelling, that it succeeds as well as it does.
In the aftermath of World War II, members of the OSS, the Office for Strategic Services, convinced the White House that the United States needed a formal espionage program. How the Central Intelligence Agency was formed is the subject of The Good Shepherd, the second feature to be directed by actor Robert De Niro. Starring Matt Damon, and with a cast that includes De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Joe Pesci, Billy Crudup, John Turturro, William Hurt, and Michael Gambon, the film covers some twenty-five years, from a time when ethical choices seemed clear cut to a decidedly more ambiguous post-Watergate climate.